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'True Blood' and Austin have a strong connection

Dale Roe
Sookie (Anna Paquin, left) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) get personal in Season 3 of 'True Blood.'

Austin's pretty weird, right? I mean, half the time that I'm in my car the rear bumper in front of me is imploring me to keep it that way. So it only makes sense that there would be an almost unnatural connection between weird Austin and super-weird Bon Temps, La., the fictional setting of HBO's white-hot "True Blood," returning for a third season on Sunday, June 13.

Austin has bats; Bon Temps has vampires. Austin has Leslie; Bon Temps boasts Lafayette. There were even stories making the rounds on the Internet in April about "the ‘True Blood' house," a Queen Anne featured prominently in the show's opening credits that had gone up for sale. Its location? OK, it was in northern Louisiana. But get ready to have your mind blown ... the street the house is on is named Austin Place!

Of course, the biggest tie between "True Blood" and Austin remains the show's cast. Last season prominently featured born-in-Austin actors Michelle Forbes as evil maenad Maryann Forrester and Mehcad Brooks (son of the Austin American-Statesman's Alberta Brooks) as Benedict "Eggs" Talley. Both characters were killed off in the season's final episode. Todd Lowe, who played shell-shocked veteran Terry Bellefleur in the show's first two seasons and returns for a third, spent 10 years here. Lowe is joined by another pair of new cast members with Austin ties: Kevin Alejandro, who plays caretaker Jesus Velasquez, spent five years studying acting at the University of Texas; and Marshall Allman, who plays Tommy Mickens, was born here and attended Austin High.

What gives? There's something going on here. Something weird, right?

Lowe offers a decidedly nonmystical reason for the phenomenon.

"Austin produces a lot of artists," he says, "and a lot of those artists are actors. Given that the show has a Southern flair to it, it might be a little more accessible to these actors from the Austin area."

Well, that's ... practical. Maybe our native, Allman, has a more cosmic explanation.

"Probably because anybody who's a talented actor who's moved from Austin to L.A. really understands the Southern world. In order to be on the show, you kind of need to get that tone and Alan (Ball, the show's creator) is pretty good at telling when you're faking it."

Sigh. It looks as if Alejandro is our last hope for something a little farther "out there."

"I don't know. There's just something about us," he says.

Finally. That sounds kind of vague and ethereal.

"There's just an honesty to (Austin actors) that you can relate to," he adds.

All three actors love Austin's eclecticism but admit that when it comes to weird, Bon Temps has our city beat hands-down (and Los Angeles is no slouch in that race, either).

When we last left the backwoods Louisiana locale, its citizens had been released from the lusty, zombielike grip of a monster named Maryann. In the midst of a spiritual frenzy, she had twisted the townsfolk into unwitting participants in nonstop, violent, orgiastic debauchery. Maryann was defeated, but at a price: When her unwitting minion, Eggs, realized the horrific things he'd done under her spell, he arranged for his own death at the hands of Jason Stackhouse. Cop Andy Bellefleur took blame for the shooting, leaving dullest-knife-in-the-drawer Jason to participate in a cover-up while Eggs' girlfriend, Tara Thornton, became suicidal after his death,

Meanwhile, Jason's sister — the mind-reading waitress, Sookie — hesitated after her vampire beau, Bill Compton, proposed marriage. She ran out and, upon returning, discovered that he had been kidnapped. Jessica Hamby, the young vampire Compton was required to "turn" at the end of the first season, was stuck with the body of a man she had accidentally killed in a post-breakup feeding frenzy. And vampire sheriff Eric Northman, lusting after Sookie, was fangs-deep with Louisiana Vampire Queen Sophie-Anne in a cover-up of the sale of illicit narcotic "V," vampire blood.

Try as you might, you're just not going to find action like that in Hyde Park, Circle C or SoCo.

The third season picks up right where Season 2 left off. And if, like me, you thought that last year's bizarre storyline — though entertaining — went on far too long, take heart (but don't literally take a bloody, beating heart from somebody's chest, as we've seen far too often in the latest episodes), Season 3 seems to be steeped in issues of social order and politics. It's not "The West Wing" (no pun intended) — after all, this season tosses werewolves into the mix with other shape shifters and, of course, vampires — but it seems, if no less super, a little less supernatural.

There's nothing wrong with a Bon Temps that's just a little less weird.

‘Blood' lines

  • Kevin Alejandro
  • Character: Jesus Velasquez, nursing home caretaker, love interest of Lafayette
  • You might know him from: Alejandro plays Detective Nate Moretta on ‘Southland' and has had recurring roles on ‘Weeds,' ‘Sons of Anarchy' and ‘Shark.'
  • Austin connection: Alejandro spent the late '90s studying acting on a scholarship at the University of Texas after finishing high school in his native Snyder. He performed with ‘smaller, edgier' companies such as Living Theatre while he lived here.
  • On Austin: ‘It's diverse. It's its own little world. Snyder is my hometown, but when people ask me where I'm from, it always ends up being Austin. I try to come back once or twice a year. It keeps me grounded; it's part of who I am.'
  • Todd Lowe
  • Character: Vietnam veteran Terry Bellefleur
  • You might know him from: Lowe portrayed Special Agent Chad Dunham on ‘NCIS.' He also appeared as Zack Van Gerbig on ‘Gilmore Girls.'
  • Austin connection: A Houston native, Lowe spent 10 years in Austin and studied acting at UT. (Alejandro notes that Lowe was just leaving the university as he was beginning his college career). After graduation, Lowe ‘hung around and did some theater' at companies including Salvage Vanguard and Tongue and Groove. He says he worked at Esther's Follies ‘for a split second' and still has friends in Austin's theater community.
  • On Austin: ‘I don't even call Austin weird; it seems like home to me. L.A. is weird. Austin probably has its share of shape-shifters, vampires and other supernaturals, but Bon Temps defines them.'
  • Marshall Allman
  • Character: Tommy Mickens, a relative of shape-shifting barkeep Sam Merlotte
  • You might know him from: Allman played LJ Burrows on ‘Prison Break' and has appeared on ‘Eli Stone,' ‘Mad Men' and ‘It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.'
  • Austin connection: Allman was born in Austin and attended Austin High School. He originally planned to pursue college soccer but was sidelined by a knee injury. Allman contemplated a move to New York to pursue art but moved to Hollywood weeks after graduation to pursue acting instead.
  • On Austin: ‘Just tell everybody out in Austin that I got arrested the other week for playing bongos naked in my living room with a transvestite who was running for mayor. Austin is weird in kind of an innocent way; Bon Temps is weird in a way where it's like I might get killed. I'll hang out with the Polar Bear Club at Barton Springs and Hippie Hollow over maenads and vampires in Bon Temps any day.'

And don't forget ...

  • ‘Breaking Bad' season finale
  • 9 p.m. Sunday, June 13, AMC
  • Jesse bolts in the third season finale but Mike is hot on his trail. Walt (left) deals with Gus to assure Jesse's safety and his own.